Im­pro­vi­sa­tion ex­pert to lead hymn fest

In­ter­na­tion­ally known mu­si­cian head­lines First Pres­by­te­rian’s event

The Covington News - - RELIGION - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­

An in­ter­na­tion­ally known or­gan­ist and ex­pert on im­pro­vi­sa­tion will put unique spins on a se­ries of 11 church hymns, while be­ing ac­com­pa­nied by four area choirs, a bell choir, a brass quin­tet, a spe­cial dance per­for­mance and the voices of those at­tend­ing First Pres­by­te­rian Church’s up­com­ing hymn fes­ti­val.

The church is host­ing or­gan­ist Herbert Buff­in­g­ton to lead its hymn fes­ti­val at 4 p.m. Jan. 26 at First Pres­by­te­rian, 1169 Clark St. SW, Cov­ing­ton. The event is free and will last about an hour, said event or­ga­nizer Alice Walker.

The fes­ti­val will fea­ture 11 hymns that match up with the church’s li­tur­gi­cal sea­sons, in­clud­ing Ad­vent, Christ­mas, Lent and Easter, and it’s meant to fea­ture the church’s new hym­nal, “Glory to God.”

Buff­in­g­ton said the for­mer Pres­by­te­rian hym­nal, which was in­tro­duced in 1990, was a good one, “but it can’t com­pare to the won­der­ful hymns in this one.

“The hym­nal is tremen­dously rich in varied tra­di­tion. The depth is what ex­cites me about it,” Buff­in­g­ton said.

The hym­nal in­cludes tra­di­tional Pres­by­te­rian hymns, but also pulls in hymns from other tra­di­tions, in­clud­ing Bap­tist and Methodist, he said.

While hymns are beloved be­cause of the tra­di­tion they rep­re­sent, Buff­in­g­ton will put his unique touches on all of them.

“There will be lots of im­pro­vi­sa­tions, lots of cre­ative hymn in­tro­duc­tions and in­ter­ludes. On cer­tain stan­zas, in­stead of the choirs or con­gre­ga­tion singing, there will be or­gan in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the verse,” Buff­in­g­ton said.

Those in­ter­pre­ta­tions will aim to in­cor­po­rate the mood of the words in a verse and could dif­fer dras­ti­cally from the tra­di­tional sound and melody.

“If a hymn is deal­ing with de­mons and cru­ci­fix­ion and hell and death, as op­posed to an­gels fly­ing in heaven, the chords will be dif­fer­ent and the reg­is­tra­tion dif­fer­ent. It’s some­thing where you al­low the con­gre­ga­tion to re­ally get into the mood of the text of the hymn. I’ll do some things that aren’t as pre­dictable, and they might just stop singing for a brief sec­ond and go, ‘Oh my. What is that?’ And it makes them re­ally look at the text and think, ‘That’s kind of cool,’” he said.

“There are all sorts of ways of mak­ing hymns in­ter­est­ing rather than just play­ing a four-part har­mony or solo­ing out a melody.”

The per­for­mance will end with the au­di­ence choos­ing three hymns or tunes that Buff­in­g­ton will use to cre­ate “a ta­pes­try of all of those three hymns,” in a sin­gle piece.

The Rev. Billy Wade will also read Scrip­ture be­tween songs.

The four choirs par­tic­i­pat­ing are from Cony­ers Pres­by­te­rian Church (Martha Clay di­rect­ing); Cov­ing­ton First Pres­by­te­rian (Sanc­tu­ary Choir di­rected by Alan Bunn and Am­bas­sador Choir di­rec­tor by Alice Walker); and First United Methodist Church (Singing Saints di­rected by Becky Ram­sey).

The Em­pire Brass quin­tet from Ken­ne­saw State Univer­sity, First Pres­by­te­rian’s bell choir, tim­panist Scott Stan­ton and lo­cal dancer Liane Bouch­illon, who re­cently per­formed in “The Nutcracker” at the Fox The­atre, will also be per­form­ing.

Buff­in­g­ton has been play­ing or­gan for more than 40 years, re­ceiv­ing de­grees from Duke and Johns Hop­kins uni­ver­si­ties and study­ing at the Vi­enna In­ter­na­tional Mu­sic Center and the Hochshule fur Musik in Aus­tria. He has been the or­gan­ist at Peachtree Chris­tian Church in At­lanta since 1996.

Sub­mit­ted photo /The Cov­ing­ton News

Herbert Buff­in­g­ton per­forms on the Sipe or­gan in the sanc­tu­ary of North­way Chris­tian Church, Dal­las, Texas, in April 2013.

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